In an open evening of football, Arsenal beat Southampton 0-2 at St. Mary’s to record Mikel Arteta’s first Premier League away win.
Arsenal came into the game against the Saints having lost their previous two matches since the Premier League restart. They had conceded five goals and scored just one. Things were miserable with injuries, poor form and disgruntled players abound, but they picked up a huge win against Ralph Hasenhuttl’s outfit thanks to two goals: one from Eddie Nketiah and the other from Joe Willock.
Obviously there’s lots to read into the fact that the goals came from Arsenal’s youngsters not any of their highly paid superstars, and much of the media attention will go to that, but the real star of the show wasn’t any of the forward players, it wasn’t Rob Holding at the back, it wasn’t even Arsenal’s decision to wear head-to-toe yellow to avoid a kit clash with their hosts. The real star was in goal.
When Bernd Leno went down injured against Brighton, many Arsenal fans began to fear the worst. The German goalkeeper had been an absolute colossus for the Gunners all through the season, bailing out the defence time and time again with big saves.
Their fears weren’t helped when the Gunners threw away a 0-1 lead to lose 2-1 late on, and many fans feared more away day misery when they played just down the South Coast at Southampton. Turns out they had no need to worry as Emiliano Martinez had it covered.
Yes Rob Holding did play well at the heart of defence, making a game-high 8 clearances as the Gunners came under siege from the Saints. But the line established by Holding was breached by Southampton on more than one occasion, but every time that happened Martinez stood tall in goal and repelled the hosts.
Martinez’s saves were well-timed and his presence was intimidating. The stop from Shane Long was particularly impressive as he reacted in the blink of an eye to slap away a viper of a shot. These saves kept Arsenal’s sheet clean, meaning that the endless pressure Southampton kept flinging at their visitors never resulted in a change in scoreline.
These are the basics of goalkeeping but getting them right in the blinding sunshine and blistering heat is an impressive feat. One only need to look at how Alex McCarthy was culpable for both Arsenal goals with elementary mistakes – first kicking the ball straight at Eddie Nketiah, and then palming Alex Lacazette’s shot back out in the danger zone – to see how badly it could have gone for Martinez (who was even rustier than McCarthy given he’s played just thrice since the turn of the year).
Martinez’s impressive saves weren’t all as he showed some skill with the ball at his feet, first with calm and composed distribution but also with a scorching long pass all the way through to Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in the second-half. That pass should have resulted in a goal as it bypassed the entire Southampton side and left the Gabon international running clean through on goal. Aubameyang went for a pass instead of a shot, however, and the defence was able to recover.
For a man making his first Premier League start of the season to play so well and be so decisive in an area so important for a club so unlucky is just so very good. Emi Martinez may not be the cannon firing the Gunners to victory but he is the rampart keeping opponents out and putting those big guns in the position that they can win the game. No Leno? No problem.